Ozanam: “The Origins of Socialism”

by | Oct 29, 2022 | Formation

Antoine-Frederic Ozanam, one of the seven founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP), was part of a young Catholic intellectual generation, deeply idealistic and active, socially and politically. His life was marked by faith and holiness, which he received from the vibrant witness of his parents, and which he demonstrated, first as a student and then as a professor, through his historical and literary writings, in which he always defended Christianity, the family, life, the dignity of the human person through work, democracy and attention to the most needy.

The historical moment in which Ozanam was inserted was marked by many political changes, with the rise of economic liberalism, which coexisted with materialism, positivism, and Marxism. The “Conferences of Charity” themselves could be considered the pioneers of the Catholic social movement, with the aim of alleviating the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the workers. He is also considered the precursor of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Encyclical “Rerum Novarum”), for his actions in defence of the rights of workers, women and children.

Ozanam wrote 11 books and hundreds of articles, pamphlets, chronicles and booklets. One of them, written in September 1848, is entitled “The Origins of Socialism” (published in the newspaper “New Era”), in which, in 28 pages, Blessed Frederic addresses this subject with mastery, warning about the dangers of this ideology. This article was written at the time when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the “Communist Manifesto”. Ozanam also rejected other heresies and doctrines contrary to the Church, such as the ideas defended by philosophers like Claude-Henri de Rouvroy (the famous Count of Saint-Simon), François-Marie Charles Fourier, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Edward Gibbon.

Ozanam was convinced of the need for urgent but peaceful social reforms to prevent the exploitation of the poorest. He was convinced that only social justice and charity could resolve this dilemma, discarding solutions such as those proposed by both the old liberal economic school and the tempting approaches of nascent socialism.

Through the article “The Origins of Socialism”, Ozanam came to the conviction that Christianity was the only way to achieve the ideal of fraternity among people, without sacrificing their freedom and dignity, and it would also be the only way to seek happiness here on earth, without renouncing the hope of achieving greater happiness in heaven.

He wrote thus about socialism: “We are not ignorant of how generous these illusions are, but we see the danger they entail. Like all the doctrines that have disturbed the peace of the world, socialism has no strength except by the many truths it contains mixed with many errors. This confusion lends it an appearance of novelty that astonishes weak minds. It is high time to show that it is possible to defend the cause of the proletarians, to devote oneself to the relief of the suffering classes, to work for the abolition of poverty, without being in solidarity with the preaching that continues to hang over our heads such dark clouds”.

Ozanam’s holiness is also evident in his writings. The lucidity of his thought converts hearts, not only in his time, but especially today. That is why we have Ozanam as our great inspirer, outstanding teacher and example for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian Family. Next month we will publish a summary of the book “A Pilgrimage to the Country of El Cid”, also written by Ozanam.

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Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th International President General
Society of St. Vincent de Paul